In a recent issue of The New Yorker, John McPhee wrote an article entitled Omission: Choosing what to leave out. In the essay McPhee references Ernest Hemingway’s Theory of Omission, which encourages writers to let the reader do the creating by leaving white spaces between chapters or segments of chapters, the unwritten thoughts to be articulated by the reader. McPhee advocates letting the reader have the experience and leaving judgment in the eye of the beholder.
This idea of omission can also be applied to drawing as well. Just as writing is a matter of selecting and stringing words together to create a sentence, a paragraph, or a chapter, sketching is a matter of drawing a line, then another, and another, until one creates shapes and compositions that recall to the seeing eye the scene set before us. And what we omit from a drawing is just as important as what we include.
The first day in Singapore, I wandered over to the Kampong Glam neighborhood of Singapore to sketch the Masjid Sultan (Sultan Mosque). Constructed in 1824 as a one-story structure for Sultan Hussein Shah, the first sultan of Singapore, the mosque was remodeled and enlarged in 1932 to its present form. Relative to the surrounding street grid, the mosque was skewed, perhaps to orient the mihrab to Mecca. It was important for me to capture this subtle shift as I drew this view looking down the pedestrian way of Bussorah Street.
A few days later, I again visited the area hoping to draw one of the side streets. Instead, I chose to enjoy a refreshing iced coffee at an outdoor cafe with a view both of the Masjid Sultan as well as some the shops along Baghdad Street.
Continuing from a previous post from this past January, these are more signs of Fremont. While I am concentrating on those of places with a history here, a few relative newcomers have probably snuck into the picture. In drawing these, I am struck by the subtle differences in typography that we normally do not notice but which convey the character of a place
A recent addition to the Freelard neighborhood is this BBQ joint at 4105 Leary Way NW. Even though the scene contains a lot of detail, I find that picturesque places like this are easier to draw since slight errors in proportion are much less noticeable than when drawing examples of classical architecture, which followed certain principles of proportional relationships. For example, drawing the Tempietto in Rome was a real challenge. Notice the comment that I wrote after finishing—A little too tall… I had exaggerated the height of the structure just a bit too much.
I have always preferred taking photographs with a wide-angle lens—a 35 mm, 28 mm, or even a 24 mm fixed lens. This preference shows up in the views I usually select when drawing on location. My inclination to include context and information in my peripheral vision often leads to panoramic views or perspectives that stretch beyond the classic 60° cone of vision for linear perspectives.
Some photographers prefer the more tightly composed shots made possible with telephoto lenses, which can be seen in how they might frame and compose their on-location drawings.
For those who prefer the flexibility of a zoom lens, the choice of subject matter can suggest how it is to be framed, whether it is a panoramic cityscape or a tighter close-up of a building fragment.
I took advantage of an ad hoc meeting of the Seattle Urban Sketchers at Fremont Coffee to sketch my favorite coffee shop, where I get my daily Americano. Above is an exterior view that I had done a couple of years ago. So today, I sketched two additional views, one of the interior and the other of the outside deck. I had a little trouble conveying the scale of the two spaces. Scale—in particular, human scale—is a difficult aspect to capture well but it is so important in describing the intimacy or expansiveness of a space.
On display at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture on the UW campus is this Allosaurus Fragilis, a fleet-footed predator from the late Jurassic period.
The second image below shows how I attempted to keep the allosaurus in proper proportion. I first estimated that the height of the hind legs was about a third of the dinosaur’s overall length. You can barely see the tic marks that I used to divide the length into thirds. I then used this measurement to fix the height of the hind legs. I also judged the position of the hind legs to be a little more than a third of the length from the head. Finally, I drew the curvature of the spine to guide the development of the dinosaur’s skeleton.
Being able to see and replicate proper proportions, no matter the nature of our subject matter, is an important skill in drawing.
At the end of my recent trip to India, Xavier Benedict and I drove down from Chennai to Kanchipuram, where we visited several Hindu temple sites. The most impressive of these was Kailasanathar Temple, the 7th-century Pallava shrine dedicated to the god Shiva. The sandstone structure has weathered over the past 1200 years but is being restored and retains its tiered, sculptural elegance.
While one can read descriptions, study drawings, and pore over photographs of architecture, nothing can compare with actually visiting and experiencing a place. The sights, sounds (or lack thereof), and sense of scale immediately become apparent upon entering. There is no need for any intermediary material. At the conceptual level, however, plans and sections do offer views that can explain the formal layout of a place.
It is Interesting to note the disparity that often exists between reality and how it may be represented. For example, after my visit, I noticed that the plan of Kailasnathar that I had drawn a few years ago is missing columns on the west entry porch.
While I could appreciate the formal order of the temple compound and the artistic expression of the stone carvings, I also realized that not fully understanding the Hindu iconography prevented me from truly appreciating what I was experiencing.
Despite recovering from a bad cold and feeling a bit under the weather, I decided to join the monthly Seattle Urban Sketchers outing this past Sunday. It promised to be an unseasonably warm and sunny day but it was still quite chilly in the late morning when I drew this view of Pike Street in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, standing in front of the new Starbucks Roastery, looking east toward the domed First Covenant Church. Not my finest work but merely another step in the long process of learning how to say more with less. There is so much missing in this drawing, so many things that I saw but omitted, and yet, the overall feel for that particular place is still there.
If we think of the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, or the Chrysler Building in New York City, we can see the image in our head, even if we have never seen the real thing. It appears as though the stream of images we have seen in photographs and movies have been seared into our memory banks. And we might even be able to sketch reasonable facsimiles if asked to.
After we have visited a place several times, or lived near to, driven by, or walked past a place for a number of years, we might also form an iconic image of that place. A personal example is the Fremont Baptist Church, established in 1892 with the current brick building being constructed in 1924, perched on a hill above downtown Fremont in Seattle.
For me, this iconic image of Fremont has materialized over the years. Yet the image I hold in my mind’s eye does not correspond to what you can actually see from any position on the street. What seems to occur is that our mind is able to recombine the fragmented, partial views we’ve experienced into a single iconic, memorable image.